- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 25, 2019

The Russian government was told by a United Nations tribunal on Saturday to immediately release three Ukrainian naval vessels and 24 sailors that had been captured near Crimea six months earlier.

The International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea announced its members voted 19-1 in favor of ordering Moscow to relinquish the two warships and tug boat and their two dozen crewmen, ruling for Kiev in a victory awarded days into the administration of newly elected Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy.

“Having examined the measures requested by Ukraine, the Tribunal considers it appropriate under the circumstances of the present case to prescribe provisional measures requiring the Russian Federation to release the three Ukrainian naval vessels and the 24 detained Ukrainian servicemen and to allow them to return to Ukraine in order to preserve the rights claimed by Ukraine,” said Jin-Hyun Paik, a South Korean jurist and the tribunal’s president.

A judge representing Russia cast the sole dissenting vote.

Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine in 2014, and the region has been the subject of dispute between both former Soviet states ever since. The three vessels and crewmen were captured in November while navigating the Black Sea near the Kerch Strait that separates the Crimean peninsula from the Russian mainland, and Moscow subsequently charged the sailors with supposedly breaching its maritime borders.

“The Tribunal does not consider it necessary to require the Russian Federation to suspend criminal proceedings against the 24 detained Ukrainian servicemen and refrain from initiating new proceedings,” said Mr. Paik. “However, the Tribunal considers it appropriate to order both Parties to refrain from taking any action which might aggravate or extend the dispute.”

Russia had refused to participate in hearings held over the dispute and asserted that the tribunal lacked jurisdiction — an argument the Russian Foreign Ministry reiterated in a statement published by state media in response to the ruling.

Mr. Zelenskiy, Ukraine’s new president, said that Russia could send a signal of “real readiness to stop the conflict with Ukraine” by complying with the order, The Associated Press reported.

A court in Moscow previously ruled that the sailors could remain jailed through July 26.

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